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Ants march in to many households and the pests are tough to eliminate

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VICTORIA - Opening a bag of sugar to find ants crawling about is an experience no one wants to have, yet ants are a common pest many householders battle annually.

Jennifer Murphy, a Victoria resident, had just moved into her new home when she started to think there might be a pest problem. First she found ants in a large bag of sugar, and then while her husband was chopping vegetables he was bitten by an ant, and the pain was so intense he cut himself.

"We were annoyed," says Murphy. "But we knew that because we live in a warm climate, bugs were bound to come around. We had just moved in so we needed to figure out where they were coming from."

The potential entry point and cause of what Murphy believes was a carpenter ant problem was a disconnected dryer vent and a woodpile stacked against the outside wall of the house.

"We moved the woodpile away from the house and connected the vent," she says. "We squished all the ones we found in the house, and that seemed to get rid of them pretty quick."

Kurtis Brown, technical supervisor at Victoria Pest Control, says the nesting structure of carpenter and odorous house ants, the two most common types, means there is only so much people can do to avoid a problem.

"Many ants are seeking moisture. Making sure our homes are in good repair, where we fix leaks and we aren't piling soil over our foundations and on to our siding," says Brown.

To deter ants, avoid planting anything in the garden that will attract aphids. Brown says ants are aphid farmers and will move them from around plants to feed on their droppings.

"If you are going to plant something that are prone to aphids, it's important to make sure the aphid population doesn't get out of control," he says. "The relationship between ants and aphids is important, and it is important to avoid planting vegetation right next to our houses where aphids and ants can be found."

Carpenter and odorous house ants are particularly problematic because of the way they develop their nests and colonies. Brown says carpenter ants, which have one queen, develop satellite colonies where they move larva, which is what is normally found in a home.

"It's a nest, but there is just no queen," says Brown. "That is where the problem lies with carpenter ant control. You're not only dealing with the ants in the house, but also the constant threat of a parent colony re-establishing a satellite colony in the house. They essentially become a problem because they walk up to the house and walk into it. They walk under the siding, or a power line or up the siding on the outside."

If left unchecked, carpenter ants can eventually cause severe structural problems to load-bearing beams and other parts of the home.

Like carpenter ants, it is the nesting structure of the odorous house ant that makes them a concern for homeowners.

"They have a multiple queen and multiple nest site structure," says Brown. "There can be anywhere from one nest with one queen to a colony taking over 60 hectares and one million workers."

While odorous house ants don't cause any physical damage to the home, Brown says they can be a serious nuisance as they forage for food in cupboards and drawers.

As their name suggests, odorous ants can also stink. They release a pheromone that smells similar to rancid butter or rotten coconuts. The smell is used to protect the nest and is most often smelled when a creature is crushed.

According to Brown, people who live in areas with a large odorous ant colony often have a recurring problem.

"It's really tough to stop odorous house ants," he says. "They have the widest nest site tolerance out of all the native ant species, so they can nest almost anywhere. I've found nests in toilet lids, in kitchen cupboards, typical spots like crawlspaces and attics, even in a radio. That is what really adds in what makes them so successful."

When dealing with a persistent ant problem, Brown advises avoiding pesticides as they aren't very effective. If a homeowner suspects carpenter ants have taken up residence he recommends contacting a pest expert. Baiting through ant traps can be successful for odorous house ants.

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